On February 13, 2007, Willie Otis “Pete” Williams was exonerated by postconviction DNA testing after serving nearly 22 years in prison. DNA testing later confirmed the identity of another suspect who had pled guilty to similar crimes a year after Williams was convicted and who had been named in Williams’ appeals as early as 1986.
On April 5, 1985, around 11 p.m., a woman exiting her car in her apartment complex parking lot just north of Atlanta was approached by an African-American man. The man asked her if she could help him find “Paul.” He then pulled out a gun and told her to move into the passenger seat. After initially having trouble starting the car, he drove to a nearby dead-end street where he raped the victim. After the attack, he drove her back to the parking lot and left on foot.
The victim was taken to the hospital where a rape kit was collected. She told police that the attack lasted over 45 minutes, that there was a full moon, and that the parking lot was well-lit. She helped a police artist draw a composite sketch.
On April 10, 1985, around 9 p.m., another woman exiting her car in her apartment complex was approached by an African-American man. This parking lot was on the same street in the same area as the other crime. The man asked her if she could help him find “Carol.” He then put a razor blade to her throat and got in the car. He demanded sex and tried to pull off her clothes. She was able to talk the man into leaving her car.
The police showed the second victim the first victim’s composite sketch, and the second victim immediately identified the sketch as resembling her attacker.
On April 28, 1985, at 4 a.m., Willie Otis “Pete” Williams and two of his friends were stopped for suspicious behavior near the location of the attacks. Williams gave the officer a false address, and the arresting officer noted that he looked like the composite sketch. Williams’ photo was then put in a lineup and shown to both victims. Both victims identified him in the photographic lineup and again at trial.
Another witness testified that she was at the second victim’s apartment complex around the time of the assault. She saw a man that she identified as Williams standing near the driveway to the complex. On cross-examination, this witness admitted that her identification was based on the composite and photographic lineup rather than her observations on the night of the assault.
Attorney Michael Schumacher represented Williams at trial and on appeal. After Williams was convicted in 1985, Schumacher learned of three similar crimes that took place in the months after Williams’ arrest. These crimes took place near the same area and involved the attacker asking for “Carol” or “Carolyn.” This attacker had trouble starting a car in two of the cases, had used a gun in two of the cases, and had raped the victim in one case. In the third case, the victim was able to write down the license plate information of the attacker’s car. Based on the license plate information, police arrested a man named Kenneth Wicker, who lived on the street where the cases for which Williams was convicted had occurred. Wicker pled guilty to these three cases.
Williams never contacted an innocence project about his case, but when the Georgia Innocence Project sent a letter to all Georgia inmates serving time for rape, he wrote back in July 2005 professing his innocence. The GIP then located the first victim’s rape kit at the Georgia Bureau of Investigation. In November 2006, Williams’ motion for DNA testing was granted. In January 2007, the Georgia Bureau of Investigation completed DNA testing on the first victim’s rape kit, which proved that Williams could not have been the perpetrator. They also tested the rape kit from Kenneth Wicker’s 1985 rape case. The profiles in both rape kits matched.
Williams was released from prison on January 23, 2007. On February 9, 2007, the Fulton County District Attorney announced Wicker’s arrest for the April 5, 1985 crime. Four days later, on February 13, 2007, Williams was granted a new trial and the District Attorney elected to drop all charges.